The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District is launching a
two-firefighter squad to respond to low-level medical calls, freeing up
firefighters and engines for more serious incidents and fires, district
The two-firefighter squad will launch Friday morning under a
90-day pilot program meant to help the financially embattled fire district
better distribute its trimmed-down staff, fire officials said.
Budget cuts over the past two years have caused the district to
close five fire stations and shed about 20 firefighters, said Vince Wells,
president of the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County.
"It's going to be a while before we're able to start reopening
stations and re-staffing the fire district, so our biggest concern is the
fact that we don't have enough firefighters on duty per day," Wells said.
The pilot program, approved by the county Board of Supervisors in
July, aims to help fill those gaps, he said.
As part of the program two firefighters, including one paramedic,
will respond to non-life-threatening medical calls that would normally
require an engine and a three-person company.
The two firefighters and an SUV will be strategically stationed at
Fire Station 1, at 1330 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek, located between two fire
stations that closed in January due to budget cuts, at 700 Hawthorne Drive in
Walnut Creek and 4007 Los Arabis Drive in Lafayette, fire officials said.
The squad will respond mainly to calls in Walnut Creek and
bordering communities, but can also assist crews at a fire or other major
incident in the area, fire officials said.
As part of the program, a firefighter previously stationed at the
Civic Center Drive station will staff Station 6 at 2210 Willow Pass Road in
Concord, which is the district's busiest outpost, Wells said.
Wells said the district is using overtime hours to backfill the
new positions rather than hiring new firefighters.
Fire officials and the Board of Supervisors will evaluate its
progress over the next three months before deciding whether to keep the squad
The program's 90-day trial comes during one of the busiest times
of year for fires in the Bay Area as temperatures stay high and dry
vegetation abounds, according to Fire Marshal Lewis Broschard.
Broschard said the fire district recently applied for a federal
Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant.
If awarded, the two-year grant would allow the district to hire
more than 20 firefighters and to reopen multiple stations, he said.
Fire officials say the district's budget woes started when the
Great Recession hit and have been fueled by falling property tax assessments
-- the district's main revenue source -- coupled with rising operational and